Cook Inlet Region Incorporated is expanding its permitting program for public access to the Kenai River this year.
“It’s a beautiful day to be out on the river. I’ve been surprised at how few people we’ve seen out.”
Ben Mohr picked a good day to work in the field. He’s CIRI’s surface estate manager and Tuesday morning, he was doing enforcement on CIRI lands along the Kenai River that have recently been opened up through a permitting program.
“In between the refuge boundary where I’m standing right now and the mouth of the river, CIRI owns about six percent of the bank space. And we treat it like simple private property."
Up until last year, that property had been closed off to the public looking for a place to fish. In theory, anyway. But they ran a sort of pilot program in 2017 to gauge how offering permits for would be received for entering CIRI’s more than 30 riverside parcels.
“Two years ago is when we kind of started monitoring roughly how many people were on the land," Mohr says.
"Last year we put no trespassing signs up on all our properties and we just used our online permitting system. We had 200 people that applied for permits last year and I think it’s reasonable to assume that for every person that applied for a permit, they brought out two or three friends or family members with them. Then we had an educated guess of about one and a half to two trespassers for every permitted individual. So when you start to build those numbers out, we were looking at 1,200-1,500 people on our banks, just individuals. Not total user days."
They started with 300 permits this year, and Mohr says they can adjust that number up or down as needed. CIRI is working with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association for individual access and the Kenai River Professional Guides Association for guided access to the river through CIRI lands.
“We’re really, really pleased with how this has turned out so far. Partnering with those entities to get these permits out to people has been good. I’ve been inspecting the river banks today and I’m really pleased with how little trash I’ve seen, how little impact I’ve seen from people. That may be because it’s been a slow start to the year, but I think it’s also because folks know we’re paying closer attention and so they’re taking a little bit more care with how they’re treating the land and that’s the whole intent of this.”
He says there can be some accountability with knowing who’s accessing the land and when.
“The permits help us do that. They establish some expectations for how people are going to act when they’re on the land and they also help us enforce trespass when there’s people that are acting poorly or just destroying our property in any kind of way. So if the habitat’s not being treated well, it gives us a little bit more ability to push on the trespass issue and prosecute if necessary.”
Permits for accessing CIRI lands along the Kenai river can be applied for at the Kenai River Sportfishing Association office on the Spur highway in Soldotna.